Royal privilege: The McDonnells’ surprising life of leisure


Bob McDonnell. File photo. Bob McDonnell. File photo.

When Bob McDonnell was elected governor in 2009, he took office with a reputation for moral rectitude. He was, after all, an openly devout ex-military man who had earned his law degree at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network University (now known as Regent University) and had proven himself a bit of a scold during his tenure as attorney general. (When the College of William & Mary hosted a performance of the Sex Workers’ Art Show, for instance, McDonnell famously refused to allow the group to sell its books on school property).

But now, as a slowly metastasizing series of scandals threatens to engulf the final months of his governorship, McDonnell’s carefully cultivated image as a paragon of virtue has begun to crumble like Nebuchadnezzar’s clay-footed statue.

In fact, as more and more details are revealed about life inside the McDonnells’ taxpayer-funded mansion, it seems that Virginia’s upstanding first couple is transforming into Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (or perhaps a lost season of “The Riches”) right before our eyes.

If there’s one truly eye-opening revelation in this entire sordid affair, it’s the slowly emerging picture of Maureen McDonnell as a blithe, ethically suspect spendthrift who used state employees as her own personal service staff. Whereas the first wave of attention focused on Bob McDonnell’s relationship with moneybags businessman Jonnie Williams (the dietary supplement peddler who provided an undisclosed $15,000 wedding gift to one of McDonnell’s daughters), it’s beginning to look like Maureen might have gotten far more out of the relationship than Bob.

In addition to the generous matrimonial donation, it turns out that Williams also provided a $6,500 Rolex for Mrs. McDonnell to give to her husband (she allegedly suggested that he buy it for her mere minutes before introducing him to a “top state health official” in a pre-arranged meeting). She would later host a lunch for Williams’ company, Star Scientific, in the governor’s mansion, and also treat herself to a $15,000 Williams-funded shopping spree at chichi Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman.

None of these gifts, it should be noted, were initially disclosed by the governor. Of course, this lack of transparency is completely legal (due to Virginia’s weak disclosure laws, which exempt gifts to family members), but we suspect that most Virginians expect better from their chief executive (and, let’s not forget, former top cop).

And believe it or not, this is only the first act in the McDonnells’ ongoing grifter saga. The next major melodrama will focus on Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider, who is facing four counts of felony embezzlement for supposedly purloining all sorts of delicious foodstuffs from his place of employ. According to Schneider’s lawyers, however, the McDonnells actually instructed him to take the food in return for providing “cooking and catering services for which he was not compensated.” In Schneider’s telling, he was required to cater a number of Republican Party receptions and events, and even a Christmas party for the governor’s former law firm, all without pay.

You know, back when Bob McDonnell seemed like just another helmet-haired goody two-shoes, we really didn’t have much use for him. But now that we realize he’s been running the Executive Mansion like some sort of genteel southern version of Tony Soprano’s Bada-Bing, we’re actually starting to like the guy!